Bears remain in hunt for NFC North, boot Saints in overtime

CHICAGO -- Robbie Gould raced over to his tee on the Chicago Bears sideline after the New Orleans Saints tried to ice him with a timeout in overtime Thursday night.

After a practice kick, Gould walked back onto the field and booted the Saints out of Soldier Field with another devastating loss. He connected from 35 yards on Chicago's first possession of overtime, lifting the Bears to a 27-24 victory that boosted their playoff hopes.

Still in the hunt


Chicago improved its standing in search of a playoff spot with a win over New Orleans Thursday. Take a look at both teams' remaining schedules:

Week 16: vs. Green Bay, 5-8

Week 17: at Houston, 6-7

New Orleans
Week 16: at Detroit, 0-13

Week 17: vs. Carolina, 10-3

"I like it," Gould said. "I get an opportunity to get a warmup kick in but also see and judge exactly how the wind is blowing. For me, I wish every coach would do that and give me the opportunity. They say ice, but I don't think it really works."

After leaving Chicago with season-ending losses the past two years, the Saints looked as if they were ready to end their frustration. Instead, their slim playoff hopes took another blow thanks to Gould, who also converted a 28-yarder on the final play of regulation.

Drew Brees hit Marques Colston for an 11-yard touchdown pass with just over three minutes left in regulation to give New Orleans its first lead at 24-21.

Kyle Orton responded by leading the Bears on a tying drive, setting up overtime between the 7-6 teams.

The Bears won the coin toss and got another big break when the Saints' Roman Harper interfered with Devin Hester on a deep pass down the middle to set Chicago up at the 15. After Orton knelt down to put the ball in the middle of the field, Gould knocked the kick through the uprights.

"You've got to know that Robbie is a Pro Bowl kicker," Hester said. "That's what he was there for. In a situation like that, you know that he is good for it. That pass interference was a big part of a victory. It set up the field goal in range and all we had to do was kind of keep the ball in the middle of the field and give Robbie a shot."

The Bears still need plenty of help to reach the postseason.

Four downs



» Danieal Manning's opening kickoff return for a touchdown was Chicago's 14th kick return for a TD since 2004 (nine punt, five kickoff), tops in the NFL.

» The Saints fell to 1-6 on the road this season, compared to 6-1 at home (including their "home" game in London).

» The Bears have outscored opponents 99-44 in the first quarter so far this season. They were leading 7-0 after the first quarter on Thursday.

» Matt Forte had just 11 rushes for 34 yards and five catches for 29 yards, but still increased his lead in scrimmage yards by a Bears rookie (1,539) over second-place Gale Sayers in 1965 (1,374).

Chicago (8-6) is a half-game behind NFC North leader Minnesota, but the Vikings hold the tiebreaker. The Bears also are a half-game out of a wild-card spot.

It was another rough night in Chicago for New Orleans (7-7), which lost the NFC Championship Game here two years ago and saw its slim postseason hopes vanish with a loss on the final day last season at Soldier Field. The last-place Saints still have a shot at the wild card, but can forget about catching NFC South leader Carolina.

"Who makes the schedule?" tight end Billy Miller said. "Why can't they come down to the dome?"

Brees, challenging Dan Marino's single-season record for yards passing, was 24-of-43 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He looked more like himself late in the game after a miserable first half. Harassed by the defense, Brees was just 10-of-24 with 93 yards and a 49.5 rating in the first two quarters as Chicago grabbed a 21-7 lead.

"Every time we've played them we've been in a similar situation," Brees said. "They've gotten the best of us."

Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown and helped set up Matt Forte's 1-yard TD run with a 52-yard return early in the second as the Bears grabbed a 14-7 lead. Forte's score came after Jason David grabbed Hester as he tried to catch a deep pass down the middle, putting the ball on the 5.

Orton's 6-yard touchdown scramble in the closing minute of the half made it a 14-point game.

With their second straight win and third in four games, the Bears finally appear to be hitting their stride after a 23-10 win over Jacksonville on Sunday. They'll try to make it three in a row -- something they haven't done since the 2006 Super Bowl season -- at Green Bay a week from Monday.

Chicago native and Illinois product Pierre Thomas started the Saints' comeback with a 42-yard touchdown run that made it 21-14 with 3:44 left in the third. Josh Bullucks set up the score, intercepting an Orton pass when it deflected off wide receiver Rashied Davis.

Garrett Hartley kicked a 30-yard field goal with just over nine minutes left to set the stage for Brees' go-ahead pass to Colston.

Thomas finished with 87 yards rushing and 59 receiving.

Chicago got a scare early when Forte limped to the sideline with a toe injury after his first attempt -- a run for no gain on the left side. He finished with 34 yards rushing and 29 receiving.

Orton was 24-of-40 with 172 yards and two interceptions.

The Saints got some good news before the game when a judge in Minnesota extended his injunction against the suspensions of Will Smith, Deuce McAllister and Charles Grant along with the Vikings' Kevin Williams and Pat Williams for violating the NFL's anti-doping policy.

Smith started at defensive end. McAllister was inactive and Grant (torn triceps) is on injured reserve.

But in the end, the Saints had another rough stay in Chicago -- a place where they've experienced their share of frustration in recent years.

"It's frustrating for everybody," said Reggie Bush, who sprained his knee in the first half and sat out the second half even though he said he was fine.

Notes:Saints starting LT Jammal Brown sat out with an ankle injury. ... Chicago was without veteran WR Marty Booker, who injured his ribs in Sunday's game against Jacksonville and has been bothered by knee and hamstring problems.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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